2013 has been a very interesting year. For us, its main event was undoubtedly leaving Edinburgh, and moving out West!
It would perhaps seem to be a massive change, moving from a busy city to a sleepy steading just off the West Highland Way. But I immediately felt at home, and the fact that this change did not seem radical at all, suggests to me how well our new surroundings suit us. I am certainly wading through much more mud and cow shit on my daily walks, and I fear my appearance has grown a wee bit more raggedy and bumpkin-like, but otherwise things go on as usual. With more space. Which is nice.
2013 was a year of new contacts and collaborations.
. . .with the BBC
. . .with Rowan
. . .with Juniper Moon Farm
. . . and, perhaps most excitingly for me, with Gawthorpe Textiles.
I have been exploring texture much more in my design work this year, and have really enjoyed using simple garment shapes to explore the potential of cables and lace.
But, as Autumn turned, I was bitten by the colourwork bug again, and now find myself once more on something of a colour kick.
And perhaps most importantly on a personal post-stroke level, during the latter part of this year, I can say that I have finally begun to feel reasonably “well” on a pretty-much consistent basis. There have been far fewer bouts of debilitating fatigue, and no weird neurological incidents. I spent 6 weeks engaged in the demanding physical task of redecorating our new home with no ill effects, and I can now plan on working a full day, walking Bruce, and performing any necessary household chores: a level of “normal” activity which was completely unimaginable in the years immediately following my stroke. Part of this sensation of wellness is perhaps that I have finally adapted to my post-stroke self, and have a much better awareness of my limits (for example, I still need 10 hours sleep to function normally), but it is also important to point out that, almost four years after the event, I am still seeing significant improvements in my gait and strength on my weak side, as demonstrated in this recent swants leap.
Thankyou all so much for stopping by, for reading and commenting, and for supporting my work in 2013.
Here’s to a grand new year for us all! Slainte and Happy Knitting!
The First Footing sock kits sold out much more quickly than expected yesterday – I spent several days packing up kits and felt confident I’d made plenty available… Anyway, because I’ve received numerous requests to publish the pattern individually, I’ve decided to do so, so that you can, if you wish, knit it up right away.
For the time being I won’t be releasing the Toatie Hottie pattern as a separate digital download – this is simply because the pattern is specifically designed to fit a certain size and shape of small hot-water bottle (having seen several from different suppliers, these differ more than you might imagine), so the pattern only makes sense if you have a particular kind of bottle in your possession . . . but there have also been requests for me to adapt the pattern for different sizes of bottle: I will explore this possibility in January, and if it works out, release a multi-sized separate pattern accordingly.
I’ve also had queries about the yarn I used to knit the First Footing socks – Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage. This lovely worsted-spun yarn is really very different from the woollen-spun Shetland yarns many of you will have encountered. While woollen-spun yarns are carded, airy, and snap easily when pulled, worsted-spun yarns are combed, making the fibres smoother and stronger. There’s less air in a worsted-spun yarn, and it does not snap when pulled. Jamieson and Smith Shetland Heritage is a top-quality worsted spun Shetland: soft, durable, and wonderfully smooth on the feet as well as in the hands. It has specifically been developed to be comparable to the strong, fine “wursit” yarns that were originally used to knit Fair Isle garments (see this post for discussion of one such garment). I think it makes an ideal yarn for a luxurious pair of socks: the only issue being that the yarn is not superwash, and your socks should be washed by hand.
The shop will be updated again with more stock next Sunday (15th) around 12 noon GMT. I’ll have more First Footing kits, and more Toatie Hotties, but this will be the last update before the festive season.
Right, I’m off to pack up your orders! See you soon x
Here is the third garment in my Edinburgh series – the Port o’ Leith gansey.
This garment has twisted stitches and cables, that are reminiscent of maritime nets and rigging. It also features a deep, cowl-like collar, which is great for warding off North sea winds.
. . . but which is also detachable, for when the weather is warmer, or you wish to hail a passing vessel.
When designing this ensemble I wanted to retain a simple shape, as best befits a cabled gansey. But I also think that traditional gansey-gussets can be somewhat unflattering on a women’s garment, creating far far too much fabric around the underarm and upper torso.
So I’ve shaped the upper torso for a neater fit, following and adapting Elizabeth Zimmerman’s directions for a seamless saddle-shouldered sweater.
Centred double decreases add focus to the yoke . . .
. . . and are echoed in the twisted stitches that feature on the collar and front panel.
Creating a Wintery ensemble that has some fitted structure, but is also really cosy and easy to wear.
I am modelling it here with 4 ins positive ease, wearing a vest and woolly baselayer underneath. . .
. . . but the gansey could also be worn with zero or negative ease, and you’ll find instructions in the pattern for selecting the best size, and modifying the garment for a more tailored look.
In the essay that accompanies the design, I write about Leith’s connections with the wool trade, and with Shetland knitting, and it is fitting that the garment is knitted in a great Shetland yarn – Jamieson and Smith Shetland chunky. Having done a lot of knitting with this yarn, I’d say that it is really more of an aran-weight than a chunky, creating a fabric that seems to have just the right amount of density at a gauge of 16 sts to 4 ins (on 5mm needles). I knit this sample in the natural ‘kirn mylk’ shade but the charcoal shade of this yarn is also particularly lovely, and I’ll hopefully show you another sample knitted up in this shade very shortly.
This yarn is worsted spun, which means that, while it retains a lovely Shetland wooliness it is also very smooth, lending it a stitch definition that’s ideal for twisted stitches and cables.
These photographs were taken down by Leith’s docks and shore at the Victoria Swing Bridge – which, when it was first constructed in 1874, was the largest swing bridge in Britain.
We used to live a short walk from here. Though you’ll now find delicatesans and confectioners and michelin-starred restaurants next to the Port’s traditional maritime haunts, Leith somehow retains its character as the least pretentious of Edinburgh places.
The pattern is now available digitally, via Ravelry, or in print from my MagCloud store
(I’m currently investigating ways of including a code with the print copy to enable you to store a PDF in your Rav library. This requires updating and altering all my print files – please bear with me – I’ll let you know when this is sorted and I can also issue those who’ve bought print copies of other patterns with download codes retrospectively, if necessary).
Yesterday we had beautiful weather while we popped back to our old stomping grounds in North Edinburgh and Leith to take some photographs of two new sweater designs. I’ve been working on these patterns for a while now, and they form part of my Edinburgh series — garments inspired by my favourite places in the great city in which I lived for a decade.
Here’s the photographer:
And here’s a wee hint of what was being photographed:
I’m really excited to tell you all about these two designs and promise you’ll see more very soon!
As well as the two Edinburgh-series designs, I’m full of woolly plans for this WOVEMBER. The French translation booklet to accompany Colours of Shetland will soon be available, as will the second edition of the book itself, which is currently being reprinted (so if you’d like a print copy of the book, I’ll soon have my online shop up and running again). As well as the book, the shop will also be stocked with other items, including kits for three new accessories which I’m busy working on right now. Moving house has also meant moving work – it has taken a while to get everything set up, but now everything is ticking away in my studio and stock room and I’m enjoying seeing it all develop.
In the meantime, here are links to two WOVEMBER posts from two of my favourite woolly Shetland folk: Take a look at Ella’s incredible Spencer Dress, and Sarah’s fabulous collection of Shetland knitwear. (Sarah, of course, is the editor of Shetland Textiles: 800 BC to the Present, of which more another time). Meanwhile, over on the WOVEMBER website, you’ll find lots of lovely things about growing wool this week, including this interview with Pam Hall about her Herdwicks and her farm. (Some of you may remember that I knitted this sweater, many, many moons ago, using wool from Pam’s sheep).
So, no prizes for guessing exactly what I was reminded of when, some months ago, I first opened the package containing seven tasty balls of Magnus and Justyna’s Foula Wool . . .
Maybe I was feeling particularly parched or something, but it really did occur to me just how tea-like the familiar Shetland shades of Mioget, Fawn, and Moorit are — to my mind, Shetland sheep are really never coffee-hued — their particular brown has red and pink tones underlying it . . . just like a Nice Cup of TEA.
Tea is a big deal in Shetland, and indeed further south here in Scotland, and I have given this hat the fine Scots moniker of Tea Jenny, which, if you were wondering, is how you refer to someone who likes to drink an awful lot of tea . . .
. . .someone like me . . .
Jolly teapots dance around the body of the hat . . .
While the crown is a swirling, kaleidoscopic homage to the theraputic wonders of my favourite beverage.
I am put in mind of the immortal words of Father Ted’s Mrs Doyle
“The playful splash of the tea
As it hits the bottom of the cup
The thrill of adding the milk
And watching it settle for a moment,
Before it filters slowly down
To the bottom of the cup
Changing the colour from dark brown to…
A lighter brown
Perching an optional jaffa cake on the saucer,
Like a proud soldier, standing to attention
Beside a giant… cup of tea”
Foula Wool is a DK-weight yarn, so knit up, this makes for quite a substantial hat worked at 22 sts to 4 inches.
The finished hat has a wee bit of slouch in it, and its important to swatch carefully and wash and block your swatch before knitting (I’ve found that Foula Wool blooms and grows quite a bit)
The hat uses each of the seven shades of Foula Wool, and Magnus has told me that he is now creating yarn packs with the exact quantities of each shade that you’ll need to knit the hat. These will be available on the Foula Wool website from early next week (when Magnus has returned to Foula from the Shetland mainland). You’ll have to purchase the pattern from me, either digitally (via Ravelry) or in print (via MagCloud). If you want to knit the hat and are in Shetland for wool week now, you can put your name down for a yarn pack with Magnus at the maker’s mart in Lerwick tomorrow.
In the meantime, the Tea Jenny pattern is available to download from Ravelry!
Now, put the kettle on . . .
So here is my new design! The Braid Hills Cardigan!
This is the first in a series of designs celebrating my favourite Edinburgh places. Regular readers will know that I’ve mentioned The Braids on this site many times: the view of the city from here is spectacular, and the landscape is gorgeous for a ramble particularly in Spring when the air is heady with the smell of gorse and the sound of skylarks.
The colourway I chose for my sample was inspired by gorse too – Blacker Swan DK. This is a deliciously squooshy light DK / sportweight merino, grown in the Falkland Islands and then processed in Cornwall by the Natural Fibre Company. It is airy and bouncy and, because it is worsted spun, it also has a really smooth hand. All of these characteristics means that when knit up the yarn has great definition, and shows off twisted-stitch cables superbly.
I have recently been on a bit of a cable kick, and have been really inspired by Maria Erlbacher’s classic Überlieferte Strickmuster (available in English from Schoolhouse Press). Because the ‘action’ of these stitches occurs on every row, their look is, I think, particularly neat and sinuous. So pleasing.
Many cables are worked as braids, and as I began swatching various twisted-stitch panels, I was strongly reminded of the braided structure of eighteenth-century laced stays and stomachers.
I thought there might be a way to use braided micro cables to lend structure and focus to a garment . . . without, of course, the attendant damage to one’s rib-cage involved in eighteenth-century corsetry.
The neckline of eighteenth century garments above a laced bodice tends to be low and squarish, framing the the high bust . . .
(Philip Mercier, portrait of Lousia Balfour, 1751)
. . . so this is how I structured my neckline too.
Because of the low neckline, it is important that the cables and ribbing of the neckline sit across the high bust without undue stretching. So I recommend knitting this cardigan with a little positive ease to give a neat neckline – paerhaps 0.5 – 1 in. I am modelling the garment with around an inch of positive ease (31 in bust / 32 in garment). (The pattern includes a detailed sizing table and schematic to enable you to choose the size that’s right for you)
The braided micro cables flow down into the ribbing at the neck and hem, and this intertwined patterning is also echoed on both cuffs . . .
I am fond of these cuffs.
Because this pattern is part of a series inspired by the city in which I’ve lived for the past decade, I have decided to add in a few Edinburgh extras – so the pattern booklet includes a short editorial feature exploring the history and geography of the Braid Hills, as well as a photographic lookbook. If you have a copy of Colours of Shetland, you’ll see that the way I have structured the booklet is very like one of my chapters in that book.
This is a design I’m very pleased with for many reasons, and my cable kick is not quite over yet…
So if you’d like to knit your own Braid Hills cardigan and / or read more about this lovely landscape and how it inspired my design, the booklet is now available!
You can purchase the digital edition of the Braid Hills booklet via Ravelry, or it is available in print (professionally produced in either the EU or US and delivered straight to your door) via Mag Cloud.
So, have you seen Rowan Magazine 54 yet? I finally got my hands on a copy yesterday and there are some wonderful designs in there. My two favourites are probably Anatolia by Marie Wallin – a beautifully luscious yoked sweater knit up in rich shades of Felted Tweed – and Sarah Hatton’s Melissa – a neat and eminently wearable wee gansey.
As previously mentioned, I have a design in the Magazine for the first time (woohoo!) and Rowan have also kindly included a profile of me and my work in this issue.
Additionally, I have written an editorial feature about knitting in the round and steeking, and produced a steeking how-to for this issue of the magazine. My tutorial includes instructions for crocheted and machine-sewn steeks, while my feature explores different technical aspects of chopping up your knitting, along with the history and etymology of the steek (did you know, for example that in Scots ‘to steek’ actually means to close or fasten, rather than to cut open?)
As part of my research for the feature, I had a chat with lovely Stephen West. I am a great admirer of Stephen’s approach to design, and really love his style, and I was blown away by the steeked sweater-pants that he began to make last year out of his Amsterdam thrift-shop finds.
For the feature, Stephen sent me some fabulous images of a pair of SWANTS (Sweater-Pants) that he’d whipped up from a vintage Setesdal sweater, but as these didn’t make Rowan’s final selection for the magazine, I can (with his permission) show them to you here.
For me, Stephen’s SWANTS really sum up the approach to steeking which I have tried to get across in the the feature – viz – to just go for it and have fun . . .
I love the SWANTS!
If you’d like to have a go at steeking and refashioning your own pair of SWANTS, Stephen tells me that a tutorial or two will be forthcoming on his blog this Autumn. Thanks, Stephen!
When I first published this design a few years ago, I used a lovely British yarn that is sadly no longer available — Bowmont Braf 4ply. Many knitters prefer to make their sweaters in the same yarn as the pattern sample, and I often receive queries from folk enquiring about the yarn I used for my original Paper Dolls. I am always sad to tell them that it is no longer readily commercially available (almost as much for me as them — how I loved that Bowmont Braf . . . though I might have a secret stash of it somewhere . . .)*
So when, a few weeks ago, my friends at baa ram ewe got in touch to see if I’d be interested in using the new shades of Titus for a new Paper Dolls sample, I immediately said yes. Have you seen the palette? It is totally gorgeous.
This sample is knit using White Rose for the main colour, with Parkin, Chevin, and Eccup for the contrasts. I decided that I wanted to work with three contrasts because I just couldn’t decide between these tasty shades, and they all seem to work so well together . . . though you could easily just use two.
As well as changing the yarn recommendation, I’ve made a few alterations to the pattern. It is now nicely formatted as an eight-page booklet or ebook, which includes the (complementary) pattern for the Dollheid tam (so if you have previously purchased the Paper Dolls pattern on Ravelry, you’ll receive the Dollheid pattern as a free update). There are a few other improvements too, including clearer charts, a detailed sizing table, and a lovely hand-drawn schematic produced for me by Felix . . .
. . . who also helped out with photography.
I am very much enamoured of my beautiful new Paper Dolls, though sadly I shan’t get to wear it, as it will shortly be travelling to TNNA with baa ram ewe. If you see it there, please pet it for me.
The new Paper Dolls booklet is available now in a digital edition on Ravelry, or in print from my MagCloud store . . .
. . .and the print edition is also available to retailers for trade orders.
*I purchased a few kilos a couple of years ago from Lee. If you are interested in the unique hand of Bowmont fleece, the lovely people at Devon Fine Fibres breed Bowmont Sheep and make beautiful things from the ultrafine wool they produce.
Winter really felt interminable this year. It seemed that, for weeks I passed the same corner every day looking in vain for the snowdrops that always appear there, heralding Spring. “I don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t for those” said one of my neighbour-buddies, indicating a single patch of struggling crocuses that provided the only cheer on a particularly grey and grim sub-zero March morning. When we visited New Lanark on April 2nd, there were no wild flowers blooming at all. The only things of colour we saw were the yellow eyelids of the nesting peregrines and the bright red toadstools that Tom struggled through some spiky undergrowth to photograph. After all of this weird nothing, May’s rapid explosion has felt particularly welcome. I began to see primroses and cowslips poking through the brown and grey . . . then the grass pinged green . . . and then there was speedwell, and bluebells, honesty, and dove’s foot geraniums . . .
. . . and then the blossom started to appear . . .
. . .and now the ordinary urban paths that I walk on every day appear like fairy glades.
. . . or rather, large black dog-filled glades.
In many respects, these past few months have felt a little odd. Tom has been living during the week in Glasgow, working really hard at his new job. Meanwhile, I have been managing various health issues with greater or lesser degrees of success, and trying very hard to work around and within my limits. These few months have made Tom and I both realise how reliant we are on each other, and how completely rubbish we are at being apart. The upshot is that we have decided to move from Edinburgh to an as-yet-unknown location close to the Highlands but within commuting distance of Glasgow. The prospect of a garden in which to grow veggies, a few chickens and another dog (or two) is very exciting to me, and I am hopeful of finding a small house or steading out West where this dream can become a reality. Less exciting is the work we have to do to our current abode prior to selling it. Apparently, property purchasers require chilly Edinburgh flats to have more sources of warmth than that which is provided by our solitary living-room wood burner . . . thus, with the help of David and Stevie and Trevor we will be installing shiny new-fangled central heating and making various other “improvements.”
Why am I telling you all this? Well, because life is inevitably going to be disrupted over the next few months. A kind neighbour is allowing me and Bruce to hang out in her flat while Stevie is up here ripping up the floorboards, but I have now lost access to my computer and work-pod during the day, so am less accessible by email. I also have to consider the implications of moving my business as well as my home. We have just a handful of boxes of Colours of Shetland left in my warehouse in Leith. Once these are sold, I will have to allow the book to go out of print until I can make new warehousing arrangements at our new as-yet-unknown locale. So, if you were considering purchasing a print copy of Colours of Shetland, my advice is to do it now, as there are not many left (the digital edition will, of course, continue to be available). I’m still taking wholesale orders (with the number of copies-per-shop limited), but for both retail and trade orders, once the books are gone, they are gone.
So, if anyone is looking to buy a flat in North Edinburgh’s leafiest and friendliest neighbourhood, then be sure to keep your eyes peeled later this Summer. And equally if anyone has suggestions for places to which Tom and I should consider moving please do feel free to make them — we are now conducting recces!